How to Get a Flu Shot Now

Deena Adimoolam MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

What are you waiting for?

Flu shot myths

As cases of COVID-19 continue to surge across the United States, health professionals are saying it's never been so important to get a seasonal influenza vaccine. In a typical year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized due to influenza and complications from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With Coronavirus hospitalizations on the rise across the US as well, hospital systems could be overwhelmed with patients trying to manage two epidemics at once.

Additionally, an influenza infection could prove deadly if a person is also infected with COVID-19, says Dr. Deena Adimoolam, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at the Icahn School of Medicine. “The flu vaccination is safe, effective, and important for everyone – especially those above the age of 65,” she says.

When will the flu vaccine be available?

It already is! Aside from handwashing, disinfecting, and avoiding people who are sick, a flu vaccine is your best line of defense against getting ill this year.

Each year in the United States, the flu is responsible for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, along with many thousands of deaths. The 2019-2020 flu season, for example, claimed as many as 62,000 lives. Fortunately, though, flu shots have been proven safe and effective, and are affordable and widely available nationwide. During the 2019-2020 flu season, flu vaccinations are estimated to have prevented 58,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 flu-related deaths.

Despite this success, a few stubborn misconceptions about the influenza vaccine remain.

What is in the flu vaccine?

Myth #1: A person can get the flu from the shot itself.
Flu vaccines cannot cause influenza. The reason is flu vaccines are made with inactivated flu virus that is no longer living. The body is able to mount a defense against the flu using an inactivated virus, but the inactivated virus is not able to actually infect you, since it's already dead. Nasal flu vaccines contain attenuated (weakened) virus, but they are weakened so significantly that they can't cause illness either. 

How does the flu vaccine work? 

Myth #2: I got the flu after I received my vaccine. This means the flu shot doesn't work.
Even though the flu vaccine is effective in preventing the flu, it's still possible to get sick after being vaccinated because there are many different strains of the virus. Don't let that deter you from getting a shot, health officials insist. Even if the flu vaccine can't prevent every single strain, it's still able to provide protection, lessening the severity of the flu if you do get it and reducing the likelihood of complications, hospitalizations, and deaths.

What about flu vaccine side effects?

Myth #3: The flu shot isn't safe. Serious side effects from the flu vaccine, such as severe allergic reactions, are rarely reported. Still, says Adimoolam, people with life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients should opt out. As for those with endocrine disorders? “There are really no endocrine disorders that are contraindications to receiving the flu vaccine,” she confirms.

How to prepare for your influenza vaccine

People who get the flu shot commonly report mild side effects according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as muscle aches, low-grade fever, or irritation at the flu injection site.

“If you've received a flu vaccine in the past and had side effects such as muscle pain, fatigue, or fever, I recommend taking a low-dose Tylenol before your shot,” Adimoolam says. While you should confirm with a doctor that this plan is OK for you, dosing with Tylenol just before a shot – and then every eight hours afterward for the next day – can prevent the common flu shot side effects that can cause some people to skip the vaccine.

What to do after your flu shot

People often report pain or discomfort near the injection site after a flu shot, and simple solutions like Tylenol, exercising, or applying a cold ice pack can help minimize it. While the flu shot doesn't affect people with endocrine disorders any differently, Adimoolam says, “Patients with adrenal insufficiency who are experiencing side effects from the flu vaccination may consider doubling or tripling their dose of corticosteroids.”

Where and when to get the flu vaccine

The flu shot is widely available, and many health care clinics allow patients the option of an injection vaccine, a nasal vaccine, or a flu vaccine that is free of egg ingredients, which can cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to eggs. Websites like vaccinefinder.org allow you to choose between different types of vaccinations and find participating health care locations that carry your preferred method.

If you're on a private insurance plan, your plan will most likely cover a flu vaccination, many times without a co-pay. Local pharmacies, hospitals, and primary care doctors can all provide vaccinations that will likely be free with your health insurance. Most major pharmacies also accept Medicare and Medicaid as payment for the flu vaccine.

If you don't have insurance, don't fear. Many pharmacies offer deeply discounted flu shots for those who need to pay cash. Colleges, health departments, and VA health care facilities also offer free or low-cost flu shots, so you won't have to pay more than you can afford to stay safe and help protect others this year.

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